RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Copa América boosted the morale of champion Brazil and brought new hope for once chaotic Argentina.
What it didn’t do is give both enough belief that they can overcome Europe’s best to win the next World Cup in 2022.
Even without injured star Neymar, Brazil comfortably beat Peru 3-1 in the final at Maracanã Stadium on Sunday to win its first Copa América title since 2007. The result makes the road ahead for the Seleção less bumpy after a lot of criticism of coach Tite and some of his veteran players for recent performances.
Even with Lionel Messi sent off in the first half, Argentina finished third after downing Chile by a convincing 2-1. That result was welcomed in Buenos Aires after the team started the tournament fearing a major embarrassment for a young group guided by an interim coach.
The only South American team to win a World Cup in this century was Brazil, in 2002. Argentina reached the final in 2014, but lost to Germany. The last four world champions have all come from Europe.
This Copa América wouldn’t have worried the Europeans. Beside being marked by poor fields, empty seats, and critical use of video review, the biggest issue for World Cup title dreamers such as Brazil and Argentina was the weak local competition that did not measure how either would fare against stronger European teams.
None of Brazil’s and Argentina’s adversaries imposed the difficulties they found in their latest World Cup elimination matches against Belgium and France, respectively.
In Brazil’s case, all of its South American rivals, including Argentina, offered less opposition than the team faced during the last World Cup group stage against Switzerland (1-1) and Serbia (2-0).
Copa América runner-up Peru, for example, eliminated traditional and once powerful teams such as Uruguay and Chile, but showed poor defending by conceding nine goals in six matches — eight of them over two games against Brazil.
Argentina’s best performance up front was in a 2-0 group stage win against Qatar, against which its new attacking backbone of Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Lautaro Martínez started playing together. But the inexperienced defense of Asian champion Qatari was far from reliable, having conceded five goals in only three Copa América matches.
When Brazil and Argentina couldn’t find an easy path to beat other South American teams it was often because of their own problems.
Both were nearly eliminated by Paraguay, a team they bombarded but could not transform their opportunities into goals.
Despite heavy Argentina pressure, Paraguay had to miss a penalty in its draw for Messi’s team to survive in the tournament.
Brazil failed to score against the same Paraguay in the quarterfinals and was jeered by its own fans after a 0-0 result. The host advanced on penalties, mired in doubts for the future.
Venezuela had a similar performance against Brazil, which left the field amid boos after a 0-0 draw.
“Some teams in Copa América simply don’t try to score. That is what happened,” Brazil’s Arthur complained after the match against Venezuela.
Argentina’s Leandro Paredes said after the draw with Paraguay, “All they did was to sit on the back, and wait to counter.”
But the form of the leading Brazil and Argentina strikers was also far from impressive.
The tournament average was of 2.3 goals per match, one of the lowest ever. The top goal-scorers netted only three.
Brazil youngster Everton and Peru veteran Paolo Guerrero led the pack, and 12 other players followed with two goals.
Copa América organizers promised one of best editions in history for many reasons, but their expectations were not met.
The presence of top strikers such as Messi, Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani, Colombia’s Falcao García, and Brazil’s Roberto Firmino was good enough for only five combined goals, one less than Chile’s Eduardo Vargas netted on his own in the 2016 edition.
For Messi, “there is still a long time to the World Cup, and a lot will change until then.”
“It was all very level at this Copa América,” he said.
Messi scored just once, and brushed it off. “What mattered to us here was to have the dream of winning again, this is a promising group,” he said.
Tite believes the flaws revealed or underlined in this Copa América need to fixed by March, when World Cup qualifiers begin in March.
“We have to build on this new phase,” Tite said after his first title with Brazil. “New promising players will appear and become a reality. Our work is to follow it all (until the World Cup).”